A Little Bit About Gardening


smokeI hope you all made it though the weekend of fireworks and BBQs in one piece.  The evening of the Fourth, there was so much smoke in the air.  I thought it was certainly from the war zone of fireworks that had been going on for hours and hours.  It appears that, along with all the fireworks, the smoke from a forest fire in Canada was creating an extra haze in Chicago.


Pondering smoke, I thought about how it could be useful in my garden.  Smoke masks the “alarm” pheromone in bees.  Bee keepers have used smoke to get into hives for ages.  I have a lot of bees, and my garden is very wild. Getting to my water faucet requires having to push a few things aside.  To try to soothe the bees a bit, I have been lighting incense and waving it around the path before I charge in.  It helps disperse bees and wasps while I make my way into their domain.  An added benefit is, the early morning work in the garden feels like a ritual, a special time in the day in the garden.

Greene Avenue, Brooklyn, NY

brooklyn3Visiting Brooklyn early in June, I was so excited about Green Ave.  Luckily, my friend, Allison, lives and works  (Bedford Hill Coffee Shop is her creation) on this block.  One sign I read said it was the “Greenest block in Brooklyn,” and if it isn’t, it sure as hell is trying and is putting on a good show.


The street has at least one community garden, but I believe I saw another.  The excitement to make this block full of flowers was intoxicating (to me).  After walking for hours in the concrete jungle that is most of New York, to come upon a stoop with pots, or a garden within the walkway, is an amazing feeling.  It gives life, and a true sense that there is more than just humans on this great Earth.   We need beauty and bees to make life happy!brooklyn2Here are pots filled with geraniums, marigolds, pansies, and morning glories, a sweet and easy garden.  It does require full sun and water, along with a little human love.

brooklyn4Here, in a spot that gets a bit more shade, the tenants have perennials of rose, hosta, and hydrangea. This requires even less human interaction.  Roses are so hardy, hostas multiply like rabbits, and hydrangeas need nothing but a trim here and there.


This stoop seems to have required a bit more effort.  It looks like they built out the wall near the stairs.  Caladium, lilies,  and impatiens, along with a few miniature evergreens make this full shade spot so inviting.

I was very impressed with Greene Ave.  I hope they were a serious contender of the “Greenest Block in Brooklyn” award.  Other cities take note.  Think of your own space, are there few pots that could be set out on your front porch?  Make the stroll along your own block a pleasant one.

Time for Roses


I happened to be at Brooklyn Botanic Garden for peak rose bloom!  It was quite a sight and smelled wonderful.  People thoroughly enjoyed them. roses5 I have never really understood the love of roses.  I like them, but I had always heard the fuss needed to care for them.  When we moved into our house, there was no landscaping, just four roses:  two bush type, one tea rose, and one climbing.  roses2These poor bushes got beaten down during our first winter with the demo of the first floor.  Apparently, roses are pretty resilient.  They have bounced back, and I have incorporated them into the landscape quite nicely.

Roses have a tendency to get black spot.  You can help combat this by companion planting with the onion family.

  • allium
  • chive
  • garlic

These plants help enhance the rose’s perfume as well.  If the onion family doesn’t keep the black spot at bay, try an early morning spray of neem oil once a week.

Another companion plant I see repeatedly with rose is catmint.  It’s an airy plant that bees love.  Supposedly, catmint deters bunnies.  Aromatic herbs like parsley and thyme help repel Japanese beetle.

roses3roses1Roses need to be pruned.  After blooming, you can cut them back to the next 5 leaf set, this should encourage another bloom.  Avoid a hard pruning until after winter.  Remember, roses are a little vicious, wear gloves.

I have learned to love the rose.  They are fighters, and beautiful ones at that.  The Farmer’s Almanac has some great info for further reading, if roses have piqued your interest.


Eating from the Garden


After being away on a road trip through West Virgina, up to New York, and back through Pennsylvania, I forgot how amazing eating from the garden is!  The week I was away, the strawberries fruited and the greens shot up!

A great combo for breakfast:  Chard/Dill/Parsley omelet and fresh Strawberries!

The strawberries are really coming in fast and furious, our pug has taken notice.  This time of year we call him “The Great Strawberry Hunter!”strawberryhunterThe strawberries I grow, they don’t keep well, and should be eaten right after picking.  One thing I will try today is a Mint Strawberry Limeade!

(all ingredient amounts can be changed to one’s liking)

  • 1 cup sugar
  • 8 cups water
  • 1 cup strawberries
  • 7 limes
  • 10 leaves of mint
  1. In a saucepan, dissolve 1 cup sugar in 1 cup water over medium heat to make a simple sugar (if you like your limeade “not too sweet”, the extra simple sugar is great to keep for sweetening ice coffee).
  2. Let simple sugar cool.
  3. Juice limes and mash into strawberries.
  4. Bruise mint leaves in lime/strawberry mixture.
  5. Mix in water, simple sugar, and fruit/mint mix (to your liking) in a pitcher.  This step requires tasting!
  6. Cool about an hour or so to let the flavors mingle.
  7. Remove bruised mint leaves (or not).
  8. Enjoy!


Rows verses Inter-planting

italyrowsWhen my boyfriend, Pete, came back from extensive touring through Europe, he remarked on how he really liked the vegetable gardens in nice neat rows.  This is the way my mother planted her garden.  It is the way most people plant their gardens. potsI tend to inter plant my crops and my flowers.  I think both designs work great.  Below are the pros of each.



  • visually pleasing, in a uniform design
  • great for plant recognition
  • easy to harvest
  • easy to map out in order to rotate crops the following year
  • good for a large area



  • visually pleasing, in a more natural way
  • pollinator attracting plants can be planted next to plants that need pollination to fruit
  • some plants are beneficial to each other (example, sunflowers can provide a trellis for cucumbers)
  • companion planting allows for more harvest in a small area and help with pest control
  • less weeding
  • good for a small area

As long as you water wisely, use organic practices, and provide flowers to attract beneficials, gardening can hardly go wrong.

My closeest attempt at rows.  Garlic, strawberries, leeks, tomato, stock, and sweet alyssum all live in this row.

My closest attempt at rows. Garlic, strawberries, leeks, tomato, stock, and sweet alyssum all live in this row.


Aquilegia, Columbine

columbine4Columbine has a light, airy flower shaped like a comet or a star burst.  Such a whimsical nature is fitting for this short lived woodland perennial (Because it is short lived, it is often classified as a biennial).  I can just imagine little gnomes and squirrels dancing around them.  Hardy to zone 3 and adaptable, columbine will grow in part shade and full sun.  It self seeds readily and is drought tolerant, making it great for naturalizing.  I started with just one plant and a few seeds; and now, I have columbine ranging in colors from yellow to pink to deep maroon.  Some have taken on a double petal, very interesting.  You will find columbine blooming in late spring/early summer in colors ranging from white to yellow to blue.  Every year, it is a surprise to see what color the new plants’ blooms will be. columbine3


Make a Garden a Refuge

ilbeach17It seems that bees are still in trouble, the monarchs are diminishing in number, and California is out of water.  The news can be so overwhelming and can make you feel helpless.  I believe we can all do just a little to make things better.  Your garden is a refuge.  Make it as safe as you can by using organic practices.  Mimic nature and feel good about it.

  • Harvest rain water.   I have a rain barrel for watering my front plot.
  • Plant flowers as well as vegetables.  Our bees need a safe place to get food.
  • Plant organic plants.  Residues of pesticides from growers can stay on plants for over a year.
  • Compost.  This can be as simple as a pile in the unseen corner of your garden.  If you plan on composting kitchen scraps, then get a rodent proof compost.
  • Start with organic soil.  Soil is the foundation of your garden.
  • Use neem oil.  It is a safe and organic way to combat fungal, mildew, and bug issues.
  • Add diversity.  Learn how to plan for blooms throughout the entire growing season, Spring through Fall.
  • Plant milkweed.  Monarch food!
  • Do a little research and avoid planting invasive species.
  • Give yourself a place to sit, relax, and observe.  It is amazing to watch bugs and birds that we often miss in our normal day to day life.


Organic Plant Sale Chicago, May 16th and 17th

kilbournsaleThis weekend, come rain or shine, the Kilbourn Park Greenhouse, located at 3501 N. Kilbourn, will have its annual organic plant sale.  Here’s the info:

When: Saturday May 16, 2015 and Sunday May 17, 2015 — 10am to 2pm each day

Cost: Free Admission

Plant Prices: $2.00 to $5.00 — CASH ONLY

Age Range: Everyone!

Organic Plant Sale:
Kilbourn Park Organic Greenhouse will offer more than 150 varieties of organically-grown vegetable, herb, and flower seedlings.  Customers can expect a wide variety of open-pollinated and heirloom tomatoes, peppers, and eggplants.  Other highlights include an assortment of herbs, greens and onions.  This year will feature many new plants selected for city gardening in small spaces and containers.   These seedlings are grown with the support of a team of dedicated volunteers who make this Plant Sale possible.  Volunteers will be on hand to answer questions about plant selection and planting.  This yearly fundraiser supports the greenhouse and our work to connect kids to nature and healthy foods.

Also Available at the Plant Sale:
Perennials and other plants donated by volunteers of the Kilbourn Park Organic Greenhouse, organic compost, and light snacks.  In addition, a cookbook compiled by the Friends of Kilbourn Park Organic Greenhouse will be available for purchase.  Look for the Friends of Kilbourn Park Organic Greenhouse tables just outside the main gate to the gardens.

Harding off seedlings

hardingoff1If you started seeds late winter or early spring, you need to harden them off before transplanting them into the garden.  Seedlings have been coddled with the right heat, light, and little breeze.  It is time to help them get used to the world outdoors.



  1. On a mild, slightly overcast day, set the plants out in a protected area for two hours.  Start with morning hours when the sun is less intense.
  2. Gradually increase the time over the next 3-4 days, still starting in the morning and gradually working into the more intense sun.
  3. Let them camp out once nights are above 50 degrees (or use a cold frame to let them be slightly protected at night).
  4. After a week or so, your plants will be able to stay outdoors permanently.
  5. Transplant!  Just a reminder: when planting tomatoes, dig the hole, add compost, remove the bottom set of leaves (all the hairs on the stem will turn into roots), and plant deeply so that the next set of leaves is just above the soil.  This will ensure a healthier, sturdier plant!  hardingoff2


daffodils1 Upon seeing a clump of daffodils in a wooded area or a garden, my eyes widen with joy!  Narcissus are such a cheerful addition.  Not bothered by squirrels or deer,  they are no-brainer to plant in the fall.   Often, they open between crocus and tulip, arriving just after or at the tail end of hyacinth.  Most are yellow, but growers now offer many new varieties with flowers and trumpets of orange, pink, and white.  They naturalize into the landscape and many have a slight fragrance.

daffodil7Since they bloom before trees leaf out, you can plant them in places that are normally shaded by towering trees.  After the flower is done blooming, let the leaves remain until they brown in order to feed the bulb for next year’s blooms.

daffodil6After a heavy rain, you may need to pick up your flowers and give them a shake to get them to bounce back to their happy selves.

daffodil5I have a wide variety of daffodils in my garden.  My favorite, as of late, are the butterfly daffodils.  The trumpet is open and curled, mimicking the flounce of my early parrot tulips.


butterfly daffodil

Originally found along the Mediterranean, they now are grown in most zones 3-9 (think Paperwhites for the South, and more hardy varieties that need the cold of winter for the North).  The meanings of daffodil seem to stem around hope, rebirth, and joy.   Fitting, seeing how they beckon warmer weather of summer after the cold of winter.  Spotting dots of yellows throughout the cityscape of Chicago makes quite a cheery scene.  Hope they offer you some  joy in your day too!daffodil3